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The West Wing in Real Life - A Night with Ben Rhodes and Ingo Zamperoni

When Ben Rhodes climbed the stairs of the LMU Munich on the night of February 15th, 2019, the world had radically changed compared to the one he wrote about in his best-selling book The World as It Is. Almost 600 people gathered to hear Rhodes, former U.S. President Barack Obama’s speechwriter and security advisor, talk about what, to many, feels like a long-lost, more optimistic past. Or as he put it: In only three years, President Donald Trump has managed to roll back every single political progress Obama had made.  

 

A “Lehrstück” in high level diplomacy

More so, The World as It Is is a “Lehrstück”, a lesson in high level diplomacy, as publisher Dr. Jonathan Beck described it in his introduction. If anyone ever wondered, why Barack Obama and Angela Merkel got along so well, Rhodes had the answer. In conversation with news anchor Ingo Zamperoni, the audience was carried away by Rhodes’ vivid account of every major political event during the Obama administration. The endless fights with the Republicans over immigration, the Syrian intervention, Brexit and the resurgence of nationalism in Europe and the world, to name just a few.

 

“Air Force 1 looks like a big fancy night club from the 80s”

As Rhodes browsed through important parts of his book, even those who had not yet read it could tell, how this book differs from other political memoires. Not only is Rhodes a brilliant observer, his sense of humor made the audience laugh more than once with remarks such as “Air Force 1 looks like a big fancy night club from the 80s.” And yet, there was this pensive side, when Rhodes talked about his involvement in Laos and the U.S. bombs that still kill young children there today. “We need to learn from events like that,” he insisted. 

 

Ending on an optimistic note  

The U.S. population, so it seemed, did not learn much these eight years of the Obama administration. After Trump’s victory, even Obama at times felt disillusioned, asking, “What if we were wrong?” When asked by Zamperoni if Trump was some sort of backlash, he responded that it would be unreasonable to stop working toward progress for fear of a backlash. Rhodes never lost his faith in what he called “the larger project,” and that he was “part of something that was right.” Especially with the rise of nationalism, he claims that we should not let these people have their victory, although they would make us believe that they have already won. Despite the grim political realities, Rhodes ended his book presentation on an optimistic note. His hopes rest on young people who should stand up and rally for what they believe in in order to make a difference in the world. 

 

We thank Ben Rhodes and Ingo Zamperoni for taking us inside the real West Wing and leading us through eight years of the Obama administration.

 

The lecture was part of our series Munich Dialogues on Democracy, in cooperation with Amerika-Institut der LMU München, Verlag C.H. Beck and Munich Dialogues on Democracy. Thank you, Dr. Andreas Etges (Amerika-Institut), Dr. Jonathan Beck (C.H. Beck Verlag) and Bartley Großerichter (Yale Club e.V./ Munich Dialogues of Democracy) for your kind support. 

 

The World as It Is - Inside the Obama White House

 

 

German edition titled Im Weißen Haus - Die Jahre mit Barack Obama, published by C.H. Beck Literatur, available here.

 

(Photo: v.l. Ben Rhodes and Ingo Zamperoni © Amerikahaus)